O'Rourke's Castle, built in 1586 atop a hill, was a massive stronghold with ample views all around of any approaching enemy. Loathe to surrender his territory, O'Rourke, for a time, refused to leave. But with reinforcements of British and Scottish cavalry, Sir Frederick Hamilton eventually claimed his prize and ousted O'Rourke, destroying most of the original castle and grounds in the process.
The replacement structure, called Brandywell, was completed in 1634, a full thirteen years after Hamilton was awarded the land. The bitter feud between O'Rourke and Hamilton only escalated. O'Rourke, a famed cattle rustler and thief, took every opportunity to exact revenge, but in 1642, Hamilton, again with reinforcements, defeated O'Rourke and sacked the town of Sligo, burned buildings to the ground, and destroyed the religious centre, Sligo Abbey. Hundreds were massacred as the town around them disappeared under a cloud thick with black smoke and reeking of spilled blood.
Local legend holds that on his return from the sacking of Sligo, Hamilton and six of his men on horseback attempted to retreat to Manorhamilton, but along the way, a heavy mist descended around the mountains where they rode. The men, lost in the fog, could not get their bearings. Suddenly, as if by magic, a guide on a white horse appeared and offered to lead them to safety. The men gratefully agreed and followed the guide. One by one, they plunged off the side of a cliff to their deaths. Fully visible today, the cliff is called Hamilton's Pass, or The Strangers Leap.
The story was immortalized by Yeats in a chilling story called "The Curse of the Fires and of the Shadows."
Hours: Open daily to public. No admission.
How to get there:
From Dublin: N3/A509 to Enniskillen, then A4/N16 to Manorhamilton (30km).
From Belfast: M1/A4 to Enniskillen, then A4/N16 to Manorhamilton.
Manorhamilton, Co. Leitrim, bordering Sligo
Written by Joy Davis - Summer of Travel 2007